Month: February 2012 Page 1 of 2
(This post isn’t THAT long, but if it’s looking “tl;dr” for you, here’s the bottom line: I don’t think every racial joke is a slur, and I think treating them as such may do more harm than good. Seeing racism where there is none means it will never go away.)
(Also, I have other thoughts on #Linsanity that I hope to write about later. This particular angle was just at the forefront yesterday.)
As someone of Asian descent, someone who has always grappled with my identity in regards to race, I’m fairly sensitive to Asian American issues. So yes, my ears perked up when I started hearing about Jeremy Lin, this underdog Taiwanese American basketball player who went to Harvard, who might never have gotten a chance in the NBA, and who is now taking the sports world by storm.
I’m fully on board for #Linsanity. I’m so glad that Asian Americans can see someone like them succeeding in such an unexpected and prominent arena. (Yao was a start, but he always sort of felt “on loan” from China.) I think back on the guys who used to sweat through their shirts playing basketball during lunch at Chinese school, who watched NBA games when they should have been studying for calculus or biology, and I smile.
But it’s not all rainbows and bunnies. It’s not all celebration and progress. Behind the silly puns (Linsanity, Lincredible, etc.) the dark cloud of racism looms overhead. Or at least the dark cloud of racial insensitivity.
• Saturday Night Live’s spoof of a sports talk show demonstrates an unfortunate double standard: Chicken fried rice? Okay. Fried chicken? No way!
• The LA Times explains why the borderline racism in Lin jokes is so important: it shows us how far we still have go to. (“We” being both non-Asian America, and Asians in America.)
Part of what spurred both of those commentaries was a headline that appeared on ESPN’s mobile website (at 2:30 a.m. for a mere 35 minutes): “Chink in the Armor.” When I heard about that headline, I felt… unsettled. “Chink” is a derogatory term, but like the n-word, many Asians have reclaimed “chink” and use it when talking to each other, under the theory that a word is just a word and it’s our intentions that make them “good” or “bad.” Personally I didn’t find the headline cute or clever, but I wasn’t pissed off about it either. It just seemed tasteless.
Now, after hearing more about why and how it got there, I believe it was an honest, unfortunate coincidence. As I said to a friend on Twitter, I’ve made bigger mistakes than that under much better conditions. (Like the time in high school, as editor-in-chief of our paper, I let the placeholder copy “Headline headline headline” go all the way to print.) Sportscasters toss around lame, canned phrases like that all the time. Does that make this incident okay? Of course not. But did the guy deserve to lose his job and possibly his career over it? In my opinion, no.
(Reprimanded? Made to apologize? Educated? Yes yes yes.)
What if I blogged that an Indian author was trying to “curry favor” with a reviewer by sending them gifts? Would that make me a racist? Or maybe just a moron?
What if someone pointed out the potential offense in what I wrote, and I immediately took it down? What if I apologized for my mistake? Would you stop reading my blog? Stop being my friend?
What about the other night, when I DID tweet “Jeremy Lin + MSG = recipe for success”? Was that joke out of line? Did I make a racial slur? Or was I just having a bit of fun?
I believe that truly hateful and/or derogatory remarks MUST be acted upon. No question. But there’s a fine line between joke and slur, between enforcing political correct-ness and promoting censorship. We HAVE to consider that line. We can’t paint everyone with same brush. (“If you say anything less-than-flattering about his being Asian, then you’re racist.”) Because if we do that, then we’re just as bad as them.
I have been on the receiving end of ugly racist remarks. I’ve also been on the receiving end of racially based “compliments.” I’ve grown up surrounded by intelligent, hard-working men and women who were looked down upon, not taken seriously, discriminated against, just because of their accents, their grammar, their eyes, their height, their clothes. I know racism, and I hate it with a passion.
But I also grew up in an extremely diverse community, with friends from ALL cultures and ALL walks of life. (People used to tell me that my group of friends could have been a United Color of Benetton ad.) I know that race doesn’t have to be divisive. I know that there can be humor in our differences.
And I know that people make mistakes. They say things without thinking, or they say things they don’t mean. I don’t believe it does any good to persecute these people. I think that only reinforces the notion that race is a scary, dangerous thing, when the reality is that culture and ethnicity are wonderful, rich parts of history and humanity that should be understood, explored, and celebrated.
I’ll say it again: this country — this whole world — has a long way to go in battling racism. So let’s do that, let’s really battle real racism. Instead of kicking a man to the curb, let’s hold out our hand and help him cross to the side of cultural sensitivity. Instead of bowing to the pressure of outraged voices, let’s meet their call to action. In this case that might mean hosting sports camps for Asian youths, or creating scholarships for Asian American athletes. Whatever we do, we need to be curing the disease, not putting bandaids on the cuts and bruises. Because covering up an illness only gives it the opportunity to grow stronger while you’re not looking.
I’ve had a bunch of notes in my Drafts folder for months now, snippets that I keep intending to turn into full posts. But at this point I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. So here are three “mini-posts,” somewhat related, somewhat not.
Writers often hear the advice, “Kill your darlings.” Typically that means delete the bits of writing that you love the most, because odds are, they are self-indulgent. Beauty is not reason enough if the words don’t add to your story.
For me, the biggest darling is the internet, and killing the internet leads to an exponential increase in productivity. I always forget that, until I hit rock bottom and have to find a way to pull myself up out of it again.
It’s “easier” for me to write at night, because there are fewer distractions even when I’m looking for them, and because by that point I’m so mad at myself for wasting the day that I finally buckle down. But I need to learn how to work under more normal and more positive conditions.
“Every girl wants a bad boy that will be good just for her. Every guy wants a good girl who will be bad just for him.”
(Or as Usher and Ludacris so eloquently put it, “We want a lady in the streets but a freak in the bed.”)
I’ve seen variations of that quote all over. Twitter, Facebook, emails, songs. And I see versions of it over and over in romances. Everyone wants to be special, to be the exception. In Twilight, Bella’s mind is the only one Edward can’t read. In Knocked Up, Seth Rogan gets the girl, even though he’s a gross schlub. Even in the classics. Plain Jane (Eyre, that is) manages to captivate Rochester, and in turn she sees past his grouchy demeanor.
I can’t decide if this is a good thing or not. On the one hand, it sort of reflects reality, in a way. None of us are perfect, but we could seem perfect in a certain someone’s eyes. Through love, ordinary people become extraordinary.
But on the other hand, as Justin Long tells Ginnifer Goodwin in He’s Just Not That Into You, we can’t count on being the exception.
A blog reader named Lucy emailed me the other day, just to say hi and remark on some coincidental connections we had. I always love emails like that, especially when they lead me to lovely writing like this:
I remain in the dark, watching them shoot hoops. They always play at night, when darkness softens the day’s glaring heat. Arms and legs tangle in the rough choreography of a pick-up ball game. After another 30 minutes of shots, fouls, passes, and baskets, the tallest one pauses, wipes his face with his soaked-through white t-shirt, and says something to the others. They all agree and lope off the court.
Minutes later, I hear a soft tapping at our door.
Her piece is about Houston, and guy friends playing basketball, and House of Pies. Very much a shared past, even though we were strangers until she contacted me.
Endings are always the most difficult part for me, but when I was lying on my shiny green bedspread, scribbling away at my masterpiece, it didn’t bother me at all that I didn’t know how to end it. All I wanted to do was keep the illusion going, feed my little character with my words and drawings until she lived and breathed on the page.
Sometimes I miss that time, when I didn’t worry about adverbs and plot arcs and Goodreads and facebook pages, when the only thing that interrupted my writing was my mom telling me to wash the dishes or turn off the lights.
Elissa’s book Kiss the Morning Star is coming out soon (6 weeks!) and I can’t wait. I’ve got my copy on pre-order. We met through the St. Martin’s Press contest, which we both won, and since then she has become a friend and inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration, affirmation, education…
I learned that my most glaring flaw as a writer was that the dream stayed in my head. As I wrote sentences, read them over, and revised them, my mind would fill in the many wide gaps in the “story” that never made it from my head to the page. I’d see the dream for myself because it was mine; meanwhile I wasn’t giving the reader a decent shot at even glimpsing it. I had to learn to stop living and dying one line at a time, and to focus on the methodical presentation of a story.
That’s the lesson that I learned a few years ago. Much later than I would have liked, but not too late to fix. For me, returning to my love of mainstream literature opened my eyes. David Goguen explains how he came to the realization and how it made him a better writer in “Ballad of a Sentence Writer.”